Perceived legitimacy of parental authority and tobacco and alcohol use during early adolescence

J Adolesc Health. 2002 Nov;31(5):425-32. doi: 10.1016/s1054-139x(02)00398-1.


Purpose: To assess the likelihood that young adolescents perceive that parents have legitimate authority regarding cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption; to test whether perceived parental authority predicts adolescents' use of tobacco and alcohol, and to test the association between parenting style and the legitimacy of parental authority regarding tobacco and alcohol.

Methods: Survey data were obtained in 1997 from 1220 sixth and eighth grade adolescents enrolled in a central North Carolina school district. The sample comprised 72.3% of 1687 eligible students and 92.3% of 1321 students with parental consent; 83.8% of the sample was European-American and 16.2% African-American. Students completed self-report questionnaires administered in classrooms. Logistic regression models were used to test the study hypotheses.

Results: Adolescents were significantly more likely to legitimize parental authority regarding tobacco and alcohol than parental authority regarding conventional or contemporary issues. Failure to legitimize parental authority was associated with significantly greater odds of current smoking (OR = 4.06; p <.000) or drinking (OR = 3.81; p <.000) among all respondents, and significantly greater odds of intending to smoke (OR = 3.38; p <.000) or drink (OR = 3.38; p <.000) among abstinent respondents. Adolescents' perceptions of parental authority regarding tobacco and alcohol varied significantly by parenting style.

Conclusions: The results discredit the myth that adolescents uniformly disregard parental values and rules regarding tobacco and alcohol. The results also showed that general parenting style covaried strongly with adolescents' perceptions of parental authority regarding substance use. Additional research is warranted to test for causal relations between general parenting style, adolescents' perceptions of parental authority regarding substance use, and adolescents' risk of substance use.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • North Carolina
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Smoking*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires